South Dakota’s pheasant numbers dwindling

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Last week, I wrote about Ralph Kohler, a lifelong waterfowl hunter who continues to host paying guests at his Missouri River pit blinds, something he’s done for 70 years.

Arriving each day, groups of Kohler hunters meet well before daylight in a plain Jane, wood floor and make-your-hair stand-up coffee kind of restaurant, in downtown Tekamah, Neb. That in itself is worth mentioning.

Meeting place

We had driven non-stop from Ohio to arrive in Tekamah well before the appointed time, some three hours before daylight. Kohler had instructed me to look for the restaurant and he would send someone for us. His instructions were simple enough, “It’ll be the only place with a light on,” he laughed.

Later, when I saw Tekamah in the daylight, I understood. A tumbleweed could have rolled all the way through town with nary a hindrance. In fact, a bundle of dried tumble did just that, bouncing like an escaped balloon on its way downwind.

Breakfast

I remember the waitress too. She made it quite clear from the get go, we would be served pancakes, eggs and coffee. She didn’t ask what we would like, instead asking only if we wanted breakfast. Any further discussion wasn’t needed. Reminded me of my mother.

Ralph is now half way through his 90s. He’s hosted something like 45,000 hunters in his career. Same pit blinds, same flooded pond, same Nebraska eyeball-freezing wind, and of course, the same Ralph Kohler, blowing loud quacks to high-flying fowl and also calling the shot when the opportunity is there.

There’s more to learn about Ralph online. Google his name for additional reading.

Bad news

The news about South Dakota’s legendary pheasant hunting is anything but good. By all published reports, the heydays are disappearing rapidly, victimized by the country’s thirst for ethanol. In short, CRP grasslands are being turned into corn fields faster than one can say ring-necked pheasant.

Indeed, for the past few decades South Dakota pheasant hunting was the stuff legends are made of — millions of wild birds and tens of thousands of hunters chasing them.

Most knowledgeable wildlife professionals credited the abundance of CRP or undisturbed grass land as the reason South Dakota pheasant numbers skyrocketed through the 1990s and well into the new century.

Hunting parties came from far and wide to enjoy the noisy flush of a rooster.

Change

But change is apparent. Not only in the air but the ground, where much needed pheasant nesting ground is shrinking rapidly. Add to that, a couple years of less than perfect weather during nesting and rearing time, followed by a downturn in mature birds. The harvest this year, as reported by hunters, was worse than last year, which was worse than the year before.

Deer numbers

It will be interesting to read the harvest reports following this week’s Ohio deer gun season. If the numbers reflect the recent youth season results, expect to see less deer killed than were taken last year.

Youth hunters claimed 6,645 deer this year, well below the 9,178 taken last year.

Some hunter safety instructors are reporting enrollment is down, which may mean less youth are heading to the fields. The low harvest may also indicate a strong possibility there are simply far less deer in many areas of the state.

About the Author

Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer, and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian. More Stories by Mike Tontimonia

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